Carlos Cordeiro is the new United States Soccer Federation President. It is not a result that has filled many fans with optimism. For one thing, fans probably have little reason to trust him. For example, he and Paul Caliguri were the only candidates to not speak to the American Outlaws during the campaign, though they did answer a written questionnaire. Additionally, Cordeiro is not very active on Twitter and other social media, so while he may have promised more openness and transparency, he did not actively engage with fans as much as other candidates during the election process. There are legitimate concerns with how he will run the federation; however much of the criticism, and abuse as the case may be, directed toward Cordeiro seems to stem from who he is rather than what he has said he will do. Unless he gives a reason for stakeholders and fans to lose faith in him as as USSF President, it would be unfair to reject him before his tenure even begins.
For one thing, here is what Cordeiro actually plans to do as USSF President. His platform included: a strong focus on growing the sport; making it more affordable for young players; expanding diversity; developing commercial relationships to increase revenue; create a national team Technical Department; delegate the task of hiring national team managers; implement equal pay between the men and women’s teams while providing both with the same training support; increasing the role of women in the upper levels of the federation; giving the board of directors more power; growing the role of former players in decision making; and improve relations with USSF members. Something that is not on that list is implementing promotion and relegation, a topic that legally he cannot address while the federation is facing legal action.
As far as how Cordeiro would begin his tenure, he told Grant Wahl on the Planet Futbol podcast that in his “first 100 days” as president he will put winning the bid to host the 2026 Men’s World Cup as his top priority. He is a member of the United Bid Committee and has based much of what he would do as federation president on winning the right to host the event. Aside from bringing revenue to the federation when the event occurs, Cordeiro says that the tournament will immediately give the federation leverage with sponsors and corporate partners to lay the groundwork for monetizing the tournament. According to Cordeiro, it will enable the U.S. to invest in what he sees as most important to on the field success: grassroots soccer.
Financially, Cordiero sees things differently than his former opponents for the USSF leadership role. According to him, the much touted $150 million surplus is something of a mirage. In fact, he says, the surplus sits at $50 million once future spending between now and 2022 is accounted for. As he told Wahl in his podcast interview, “basically the reserves come down, so we’re deficit spending - the reserves come down. And I would venture to say $50 million for a business or an operation of this size or complexity is about the right level of reserves.”
That’s not to say that the new USSF President is satisfied with the financial status of the federation. He commented to Wahl in a different interview in December that, “We need substantially more resources. Germany or England—they’re over $500 million in annual expenditures. Even Spain, Italy and France are double or more where we’re at. They’re smaller economies, smaller populations, but it gives you a sense of the scope of those federations.”
One of the most prevalent issues in the election was conflicts of interest. While the obvious conflict with SUM President Kathy Carter got most of the attention, Eric Wynalda even had to address conflicts when it emerged that he was getting funding for his campaign from Ricardo Silva. In regard to conflicts of interest that may be damaging the federation, Cordeiro told Joe Prince-Wright of NBC Sports, “In a complex organization where there are inherent conflicts of interests, given the nature of the member based organization, those conflicts have to be managed to the nth degree and no tolerance for anything other than that. I’ve made structural proposals to go even further. I’m not suggesting anything about the past but to make things even more transparent.”
What’s more, Cordeiro will have to prove, to some at least, that he’s not Sunil Gulati. While he is an insider as a sitting USSF officer, Cordeiro announced he would run in the election and oppose Gulati before the outgoing president even determined that he would not be seeking another term in office. The mere fact that Cordeiro was running may very well have made the political calculus, along with the public outcry it would have engendered, that much more daunting in Gulati’s mind as he considered running.
The new USSF president has criticized the federation, and presumably Gulati though he does not name him, telling Grant Wahl of Sports Illustrated the week before the election, “We can’t have more of the same. I think when we talk about change, ultimately, we need to ensure that we have very open, inclusive, transparent leadership if we are to achieve the growth we want. It can’t be about one person making every single decision. It can’t be an organization that focuses on only some members.” Moreover, it seemed like Gulati didn’t think that Cordeiro shared his vision, as he was reported to be actively campaigning for his opponent Kathy Carter in the election.
Carlos Cordeiro will have a difficult time re-shaping the sport in the country. Nobody may want to admit it, but his plan to build the revenue of the USSF so that it can match the spending of Germany, England, and other successful soccer countries may actually be the most practical way to address the problems that persist in the sport. From powerful soccer fiefdoms that pursue their narrow self-interests at the expense of having more fair and equitable opportunities to players who fall thorough the cracks, having more money to go around would do a lot to resolve that.
While he may not implement pro/rel in his first day in office and allow some version of a mythic market that supposedly will pop up thanks to a mechanism that moves teams between different levels of the pyramid - and there are those who will reject anything he does do out of hand because of it - his plans are compelling. What’s more, there is more than one way to grow revenue, develop players, make the sport more equal, and ensure that the U.S. improves as a soccer nation. Cordeiro has his ideas and plans and should be judged on how well he implements them, not on the fact that he isn’t the romanticized outsider that many fans dream of leading the federation.